Beaver Dam Hunting Services by Joanna Frederick

When I was in sixth grade, our teacher, Mrs. Foley, read books to us. Mrs. Foley often read us chapters of a book from The Boxcar Children or another book series that my class thoroughly enjoyed. She always managed to find time to squeeze in a reading right before the final bell sounded. I recall my eagerness to learn more — about the plot and characters — and how invested my classmates and I were in finding out what happened next. We couldn’t wait.

I remember imagining myself as a child living with my siblings in a boxcar, having adventures, and somehow surviving on our own. Similarly, I envisioned the inside of the boxcar. I imagined the smell, temperature, and texture of the interior.

My recent visit to Beaver Dam Hunting Services evoked a similar degree of awe, wonder and imagination. It jogged my memory, which prompted me to recall my childhood imaginings of the abandoned boxcar. I had not thought about The Boxcar Children readings and my childhood desire to visit that boxcar in a long time. Once again, I imagined the inside of the car with reddish-brown rust in its corners and a few small holes in its walls. It was a bit damp, but good enough to shelter four kids from the elements. Although my imagination had filled in many blanks, the truth was I had never been inside the Aldens’ boxcar — or any boxcar for that matter. Yes, I’d mentally added my own layers of details, but I somehow knew that the boxcar I imagined paled in comparison to the real one. I recalled how badly I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I wanted the boxcar experience. Without it, the story was incomplete.

My experience at Beaver Dam is similarly unfinished.

In September, I met Mike Boyd and Lamar Boyd of Beaver Dam Hunting Services, a waterfowl hunting camp in Tunica, Miss. Late one Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Beaver Dam Lodge. Lamar greeted me at the back door. I followed him as he led me through the house. As I entered the kitchen, I noticed its high ceiling and a sign on the wall that read “Beaver Dam Hunting Services ~ Tunica, MS: Mike and Lamar Boyd.” Then I took a left and entered the living room, where Mike greeted me.

The Boyds own and operate Beaver Dam Hunting Services. The father and son team facilitates approximately 85-90 guided waterfowl hunts in a 60-day season in addition to farming and managing their family’s land.

Through the Boyds, I learned that a hunting club previously existed on Beaver Dam Lake. Beaver Dam Ducking Club, established in 1882, had paved the way for the Beaver Dam Lodge. “Nash Buckingham’s father was a member of the Beaver Dam Ducking Club,” said Lamar. Nash Buckingham is a well-known author who detailed his experiences in the outdoors, particularly tales involving his two infamous guns, Bo Whoop and Bo Whoop Two. “Buckingham was very famous,” Lamar stated. “He wrote for magazines, and he wrote short stories. People my dad’s age and older grew up reading his stories, and for whatever reason he captivated his audience with his writing,” he added.

“His stories are not like anything else,” explained Lamar. “The language he used was unique. People got to know who he was, and for whatever reason, they were drawn to him.” In his youth, long before he became a noteworthy writer, Buckingham made frequent trips to Beaver Dam Lake. He returned to Beaver Dam in his later years, where he routinely hunted for the remainder of his life.

Although the hunting club that Buckingham and his father visited no longer exists, the Boyds continue to honor Buckingham’s legacy through their lodge and commercial hunting services. The Boyds are the only commercial hunters on the lake. Therefore, hunters can only access the Beaver Dam Lake area by way of Beaver Dam Hunting Services.

Mike started the club in 1981. He explained, “I got a married one year before, and like any other young couple, we didn’t have any money. I love to duck hunt. I love to deer hunt. I love to hunt period, but you know, a friend of mine came up with the idea. He said ‘you got something that people will pay you to come and see.’ I’m like, ‘man, get out of here.’” Nevertheless, Mike’s friend persisted. “He was like, ‘I’m so serious. You wouldn’t believe the following that Beaver Dam’s got.’”

The year he started Beaver Dam Hunting Services, Mike guided four waterfowl hunts. “It was very limited at first, not like it is now. When Lamar was 15, he started guided hunts for me. As soon as he got his learner’s permit, I put him to work. He’s been guiding hunts for 17 years now,” Mike added.

I enjoyed learning about the history of Beaver Dam Lake and the origin of Beaver Dam Hunting Services. I liked the Boyds’ pleasant, laid-back attitudes. Most of all, I enjoyed hearing the owners describe their guided waterfowl hunts. In addition, the mystery surrounding Beaver Dam’s inexplicably robust wildlife counts intrigued me. You see, Beaver Dam is something of an enigma.

“I’ve never seen a place that withstands pressure like Beaver Dam,” Mike explained. “We hunt it every day. If people shot guns at you daily, you would tend to avoid going back to where that happened. For some reason, the wildlife keeps coming back. Don’t ask me why — you can condition wildlife to change their behavior. I mean, there are just a handful of places in the country that can take unbelievable shotgunning pressure day after day after day, and maintain a high duck count. Beaver Dam is one of those places.”

He further explained by stating “if we did in our field hunts and on our farm, what we do on Beaver Dam, we would shoot them out. We will maximum hunt a blind outside of Beaver Dam once about two days a week tops. We’ll hunt Beaver Dam seven days a week. I don’t understand it.”

I met with the Boyds prior to duck season. On more than one occasion, Lamar graciously offered to take me out on his boat to see the blind. In addition, he mentioned that seeing the lake and the area surrounding the blind in September is not the same as seeing it during the season in December or January. Thus, the timing and weather conditions were suboptimal and didn’t lend to getting the full Beaver Dam experience — and I was determined to experience the real deal. Why visit a place that I frequently hear described as “a utopia for hunting migrating waterfowl” when it’s not in its full glory? That’s like attending a pre-season game, but not watching the real games during this season. Therefore, I took a raincheck and promised to return this winter during duck season.

My Beaver Dam intrigue is akin to my childhood inquisitiveness about the Aldens’ boxcar. Mike’s depiction — about the extent to which Beaver Dam withstands high shotgunning pressure continues to ring in my ears.

There may not have been a real boxcar to visit, but fortunately, I can visit Beaver Dam, and here the story splits into two distinct parts. Part one, which follows, reflects how I imagine the Beaver Dam experience. Mike’s and Lamar’s vivid descriptions and those of other hunters surely influenced how I envision it, and of course, my imagination infuses additional details. To date, part two remains unwritten, but not for long. It will run in issue four following my return visit to Beaver Dam.

Part One: Envisioning

I admit without embarrassment — and hopefully without your judgment — that I know little about duck hunting. Nevertheless, although my duck hunting knowledge is limited, I respect hunting as a sport, an art form, and a way of life.

The Boyds’ process of booking a hunt consists of very few steps. “You call us and you book the hunt,” Mike explained. “You say, ‘I’ve got a group of four people that want to come hunt for two days, one day, whatever. You show up the evening before if you want to stay at the camp.”

I imagine I’ll seize the opportunity to stay at the camp. I’ll wake up at the sound of my alarm around 5 a.m. I’ll dress appropriately for the weather, and will probably head to the lodge’s kitchen to eat a quick breakfast before heading to the blind. Mike let me know the protocol upfront: “This is a hunting camp. We do not provide meals, but we have a full kitchen.” Thus, I will have packed a box of cereal and a small container of milk to tide me over until we return to the lodge at noon.

After breakfast, I’ll exit the back door, walk a few feet, and step on a dock adjoining Mike’s backyard, which is next to the lodge. I’ll proceed to board the boat docked and waiting for me. I have very few items with me. I did not borrow, purchase, or bring waders because Mike told me, “Hunters only need their clothes, their boots — they can hunt in their house slippers if they want to.” He added, “[Hunters] can do that because there’s no mud, no waders, no nothing. It’s just a short walk.” Perhaps by this point, I’ll begin understanding the many ways in which this hunters’ haven is ideal.

I envision seeing one or both Boyds when I step onto the boat. The boat ride to the duck hunting blind lasts about 5 to 7 minutes. We will pull into the boat shed, and step out of the boat and onto the blind — a 30-foot blind with a kitchen on one end. One of the Boyds will hit a switch on the wall to light the boathouse and the blind. It will be incredible to see the boathouse and blind suddenly illuminated prior to sunrise.

Lamar usually wields a dry sense of humor, but I anticipate that he will put it aside momentarily to sternly and thoroughly explain the rules and safety procedures for hunting with them at the blind. He will stress that you cannot pick up your gun until he gives you the green light. He will also review the bagging limits and restrictions.

When we met, Mike stated that he likes strong coffee and uses a percolator to brew coffee at the blind. So naturally, I imagine a nearby percolator brewing coffee. The percolator will remind me of grandmother’s percolator, which will make me think of my family of avid deer hunters in Natchez. Lamar and the hunters sit in one area, while Mike sits in a separate area with its own door and walls. I imagine he might walk over to hand me a cup of coffee before retreating to his area.

I imagine inhaling and exhaling deeply, enjoying the stout smell of good and strong coffee while appreciating the welcomed warmth of the hot cup in my hands. I will take a moment  to admire and appreciate God’s artwork surrounding me.

My gun will be leaning against the railing where the Boyds advised me to keep it. Inevitably, my nerves will kick in due to the excitement. Lamar will begin calling for ducks. I imagine looking around again momentarily, before fixing my gaze upon the orange horizon. In the distance, I will see . . .

Until next time, fellow hunters and friends. I wish you a happy holiday season, and I look forward to sharing the details of my Beaver Dam experience in our next issue. In the meantime, let’s bag enough ducks (within our limit, of course) to fill a boxcar.